Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Days of Future Present: The Summers/Richards family reunion

Days of Future Present is a story told a format less commonly-used these days: it runs through four series's annuals (Fantastic Four, New Mutants, X-Factor and X-Men). Each issue gives prominence its respective titular characters, with a thread linking them.

That thread is Franklin Richards. We've mentioned him in passing before, as the son of Reed and Susan Richards. He's a mutant, one of the prophecised Twelve, whatever that is.  More directly he appeared with Power Pack in the Mutant Massacre issues, with a kind of limited visions power.  This story is about Franklin's two other potentials: as someone killed by the Sentinels in the Days of Future Past, and the ongoing idea that he will develop very strong mutant powers, so dangerous that their early manifestation must be avoided.

The appearance of an adult Franklin from the future is always worrying. Does this Franklin have matters under control, and more to the point, how can we tell? There's not much doubt this time: the first two issues both involve him messing around with timestreams in an attempt to recreate his youth: both at the Fantastic Four Headquarters and at the Xavier School.  So, not a stable Hyperstorm, anyway, even if he's well-meaning.

Reed and Sue have dealt this this sort of thing before and for them this is a runaround. It's the third issue, the X-Factor annual, that things start to develop both X-relevancy and actual interest, as Rachel Summers - fellow time-refugee and indeed Franklin's partner in the future - pops in. Franklin wants to try and fix things so his future can never happen or that it will assuredly happen; the contradiction tears him in two. Rachel keeps saying she's from "the future" but she knows that's a lie. She's from somewhen else's future: the existence of young Baby X (Christopher Summers) proves that. For a while, Franklin looks like he's going to destroy Baby X to make it come true; but our Phoenix can stop that - he's no match for her.

In the end, we get a reset to the status quo: Franklin is revealed to have been a shadow of his future self, leeching from Rachel's powers; Phoenix fixes it. We're all back to normal. Except: the X-Men and the Fantastic Four are on really good terms; and Scott and Jean know who Rachel is exactly and why the fuck she dared to put on the Phoenix powers. Now this has all happened, it's hard to imagine the splintered X-Men storyline going on much longer.

With hindsight one of the funnier parts of this little story is the appearance of Cable. Cable is right there when Franklin says that Baby X will grow up to be more power than any of them, and keeps a straight face. There's surely no concept that Cable is Baby X at this point, no teasing to be had at all.

Further note: Ahab is not possibly a name that inspires confidence in underlings. Also, if you are in Gambit's to-be-retconned-in-position perhaps saying that you "like the name" Mr. Sinister on learning that he ordered the mansion be trashed is not very smart. (Gambit put together the group responsible for the Mutant Massacre, we will find out in some years time, you see.  Again, not even a hint of that here.)

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Uncanny X-Men #266-#267: Meet Gambit

Uncanny X-Men #266 continues the Storm plot so directly that I think I made a mistake not just making one post about the entire mini-arc. Oh well. Either this is much more coherent than the last issue, or I wasn't giving it enough credit for me taking a hiatus and losing track.

But anyway, let's say hello to Gambit, who makes his first appearance in the issue (presumably this is the reason I wasn't able to track down a physical copy at a decent price, had to buy a digital download!) Gambit is a thief, who has the power (presumably mutant) of kinetically charging stuff that he threw. He peppers his speech with French phrases, here and there.

In the first ish, Gambit is thieving the same house that Storm is; together they escape the Shadow King. In the second ish, they're on the run from the same; they then confront Nanny and Orphan-Maker.

Gambit is mostly the Gambit we know and love, but a few rougher edges; he's not drawn particularly pretty-boy (bit more angular and blocky - perhaps that's just the art style, though), and his humour is not quite there yet. Storm is,  thank god, returning to be the Storm we know and love and, even though that involves nightmares of her past, by the end of the issue remembers the X-Men.

Meanwhile, the Shadow King continues controlling Val Cooper, and Destiny left a warning to Mystique of her upcoming assassination attempt.  This is our first hint of the idea of Destiny's Diaries, something that will be a major driving point when we come to Claremont's return.

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

X-Factor #56-#59: Archangel vs Ravens

X-Factor #56-#58 reminds me why I started reading the X-Men.

Archangel is still suffering the mental ill-effects from being poisoned by actually, I don't remember, but never mind that. He's a one-man vigilante squad who makes Batman look like a toddler with dimples and a cute hat. This results in an awed but not entirely positive attitude from local press. The comic asks some serious questions like: to what extent do Archangel's fellow mutants have a special responsibility to clean up, or to stop him, and about the ethics of press coverage.

This is all played out in the background of a tightly-plotted Archangel plot: he is is targetted by a new villain group known as the Ravens (introduced before but I seem to have skipped that issue, oops). These are a kind of vampiristic circle - Crimson sets up one of their number to be killed by Archangel, which leaves an opening to bring him in. Given how bad a run of it Archangel has had lately, the danger is palpable, and that he escapes, and is even released from the effects of the poison, is a happy moment indeed. Like many of us, Warren might never be properly right, but he's healing, and that's important.

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Lost in Bitstrips

You may have seen Bitstrips. It's a little online tool for making cartoons and comics, available standalone or as a Facebook app.

I experimented a bit after Thought Bubble with making a proper webcomic with bitstrips (which may or may not get posted later today depending.)

Since that I have become convinced it is a medium that actually, could be used to do worthwhile stuff in. Much of the bad reputation it gets is because of the immense amount of shitty pre-generated content it presents you with.

So, I give you Lost in Bitstrips, which is a pretentious deconstructionist webcomic, featuring me and Charlotte. Read it all on one page here, and on tumblr here. It features high production values such as slightly wonky alignment of panels, bad title text, and visible mouse cursors when I didn't bother to move the mouse away when I was doing my screenshots. But is also quite funny, I hope. And maybe a bit touching at the end?

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Uncanny X-Men #265: Lost in the Storm

Uncanny X-Men #265 is just weird.  By this stage Uncanny is madly experimental book.  It's not even trying to tell a story about the X-Men going through a difficult period, it seems to have abandoned the concept of an ongoing narrative entirely.  Exemplifying this, #265 promises Storm on the cover, but then opens with a four-page sequence about a new subject species of the Shi'ar.   Which is not followed up within the issue.

Cut to: Storm (she has been de-aged, thanks to the Siege Perilous, and has reappeared in Cairo, in Illinois with no memory and is doing a bit of commissioned thievery; comics, man).   Rather than have these two plot threads interact like a normal weird comic would do, we instead bring in one of Claremont's odder villains, Nanny, who is still mad at Storm escaping for reasons that, in turn, escape me.

And then even that's all of it.  Indeed, there's another cutaway, to Val Cooper being controlled by the Shadow King, who is mad at Storm for historic reasons related in #117 or something.  We end up with this set of interlocking vendettas against a Storm who isn't even really "our" Storm, which I fail to give a damn about at all.

The thing is, I like experimental things, as a rule.  I'm a bit pretentious, like that.  But sometimes experiments fail.  And this tail end of the Claremont era is one of those times.  Part of the usual story about his departure is that editorial wanted him to bring to the X-Men back together at the mansion, and he didn't want to do that, he wanted to do interesting new things instead rather than get stuck in the past.

But this is not interesting new things.  As we found out in Gillen's run, X-Men doesn't need the school, but it does benefit from some baseline.  It is fundamentally a story about mutants who are being oppressed, rather than about any specific characters.  And I don't get the sense that this is to fill the gap until the X-Men reunite properly on Muir Island or something (like, say the Death of Superman was), it just feels like it's wildly spinning out of control.